Saturday, April 2, 2016

Carolina Gold: Our Adventurous Experimentation with Growing Rice in Southeastern North Carolina

Mature Rice Plant

When we started farming together a couple years back, Matt and I joked continuously about growing rice because of all the rain we were getting and how wet and saturated the ground was in our area.  After losing some crops, getting tractors and trucks stuck, and finding different areas on our land that were low lying areas, we decided to go for it.  The history of Carolina Gold goes all the way back to plantation days, my dad told us about it and said that it grew wild in our area.  So we went searching for it and didn't really know what to look for since neither of us had ever seen rice grow.  We ended up driving down to Orton Plantation in Brunswick County, where we discovered that the original owner of the plantation grew the rice and the plantation is currently under new ownership, with the intent to restore it to its original style.

Our acre of Carolina Gold

So what is Carolina Gold? The rice is a variety which has a long history that dates back to plantation days in the Southeastern area of the country.  Anson Mills, a mill down in South Carolina known for its Carolina Gold has some pretty informative facts about the rice and you can click here if you would like to read more about the history and properties of this delicious grain. Matt actually acquired our certified organic seed from Mr. Roberts.  Matt called Mr. Roberts on the phone and he would not sell us the seed but that he was a seedsman and he would send us some Carolina Gold Rice Seed to plant.
Carolina Gold Rice Seed from Anson Mills

 In 2014 Matt and I visited a farmer east of Asheville that was growing organic Carolina Gold and milling it to sell at markets around the area.  We saw how he made his patties and talked with him about irrigation and flooding those fields, as well as how to harvest the rice. 

Planting rice seed in trays
So we went home and got some seed to plant, waited until the spring and Matt started to make some patties in the field.  He had been researching the SRI method quite rigorously all winter long. SRI stands for System of Rice Intensification.  You can click here for some links to see how other countries use this method to plant their rice.  Basically you plant individual seedlings once the true leaves are visible (2 leaves to be exact) and it has to be planted exactly 10 inches apart for however many rows you are cultivating, preferably in a square. Our patties didn't work out quite as planned, so Matt bedded up some rows with the tractor to make an acre for the rice.  Meanwhile I planted the seeds in the greenhouse.  Once they were germinated, it was time to thin so we could use each plug per hole in the field.  Experimenting with other trays, where we just layered the seed in a tray with no plugs seemed to be more effective with time and ease to plant.
We experimented with different size trays

Matt's brother came down to help out just in time this season.  We just found out we were expecting another child and while still working the local markets for our vegetables we needed help planting all that rice.  From sunup to sundown, about a week it took to get that acre planted. By hand.  Every ten inches.  Once the seedlings were in, we really didn't have to do much.  We may have watered once or twice; remember the reason we decided to grow was because of the amount of rain we get anyway.  It worked great.  Upon harvesting the rice in August, Matt invested in a hand sai or sickle.  It took him 3 days sunup to sundown to reap all that rice with the help of Matt's friend Ben as well as Bella and Luke. It was hot and the mosquitoes were treacherous to say the least.  He was alone on that venture, I felt bad for him out there but no way was I going to endure that pregnant with a 2 year old!  Thanks for providing for the family honey!  We rented a UHAUL, loaded up the rice, and drove to the mountains where we revisited our friend who so generously offered to let us use his harvesting

First harvest of rice! Hard to believe one blade of grass produced this bunch of grain!

Lucas working hard!
Bella loving her jo

Uhaul full of rice. 

Next the rice needed to be threshed, cleaned and dried. You can see from the pictures we obviously need to invest in some equipment, but this was a great experience yielding a little over 200 lbs our first year. It is delicious to say the least.  We eat it almost every night, whether it's cooked with stir fry, curries, or simply as a side dish.  The rice seems to have a fragrance of floral undertones while cooking it and all I do is add a bouillon cube and let it cook down.  Honestly, we went out to eat the other night (which we rarely do) and my dish was served with some kind of rice. I just couldn't eat it, I am so spoiled with the flavor of our rice and I can't even justify using anything else with my dishes until it runs out. But by then hopefully the next crop will be ready for harvest.
Processing the rice 

Drying the rice took at least 10-12 hours

We plan to double our planting this season and focus on selling to restaurants, maybe some local markets and grocers.  If you would like any other information or how to get your hands on any of our Carolina Gold, feel free to email us at

We store it in 5 gallons with bay leaves to keep bugs out

Carolina Gold Rice, Hartinger Style